I began my career around 1990 making short experimental films about cities and collaborating with architecture students on projects that explored how we inhabit spaces and places. During this time I set up a small exhibition and performance space in Bloomsbury – atelier KROL – where I curated several exhibitions and organised monthly film screenings and performances.
From 1993-96 I read English Literature and History of Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London. During my first year there I founded what became Proboscis to produce COIL journal of the moving image – a five year (1995-2000) experimental publishing project which commissioned new writing and artworks exploring the culture and practices of artists film, video and electronic media. Over five years and ten issues I commissioned and published works by over 130 different people.
In 1998 I joined the Royal College of Art’s Computer Related Design Research Studio led by Professor Gillian Crampton Smith, where I was responsible for setting up and managing a new publishing imprint, RCA CRD RESEARCH. I commissioned, edited and published five books over the next three years, including Hertzian Tales by Anthony Dunne (now published by MIT Press), FLIRT by Fiona Raby & Ben Hooker, The Presence Project by Anthony Dunne & Bill Gaver and Biotica by Richard Brown. In 2000 I co-curated a major retrospective exhibition at the RCA of the Research Studio’s work with Claire Catterall of Scarlet Projects.
In 2001 I became a Research Associate at the London School of Economics as well as taking up a new post as Research Fellow in the RCA’s School of Communications. There I set up a new think tank for culture, SoMa, in partnership with Professor Roger Silverstone of the LSE and Alice Angus at Proboscis. SoMa was a vehicle for bringing together artists and designers with sociologists, ethnographers and economists. A series of projects emerged from SoMa including Private Reveries, Public Spaces; Landscape and Identity, Language and Territory; and Urban Tapestries. I left the RCA in August 2002 to run Proboscis full-time with Alice Angus (who had joined me at Proboscis in 1999).
Other key projects during this time included Topologies : a research project exploring public libraries as venues for new encounters with contemporary artistic practices; Mapping Perception, a five year creative research journey exploring human perception and genetic brain dysfunction with the filmmaker Andrew Kötting and Dr Mark Lythgoe of the Institute of Child Health (now Director of the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging at UCL); and Diffusion eBooks.
Mapping Perception was a major art-science collaboration, funded by the SciArt Consortium (Wellcome Trust, NESTA, ACE etc) as well as the UK Film Council, London Production Fund, South East Arts and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Having worked individually with both Andrew and Mark previously, I conceived of bringing them together to explore how we perceive the world through brain injury on a long train journey in early 1998. Thus unfolded a five year journey of collaboration culminating in a 37 minute 35mm experimental film documentary, a large scale installation exploring (and playing with) our senses of perception, a book and a website exploring our research and creative activities. The film continues to be shown internationally (and has been collected into several commercial DVD packages by the BFI and E.D. distribution), and a new version of the installation will be touring as part of a group show (Slippage – the Unstable Nature of Difference) from 2015.
From 2002 until 2009 I led both the Urban Tapestries project and the ensuing Social Tapestries research programme where we pioneered building a working mobile mapping platform for sharing stories, knowledge and other media around places and we developed engagement tools and techniques for projects focused around actual communities.
Our partners included Orange, Ordnance Survey, Hewlett-Packard Research Labs, France Telecom R&D UK, LSE, Birkbeck College, Queen Mary University of London, Mixed Reality Lab (University of Nottingham) and others. Funding for these projects came from the Department of Trade & Industry, Ministry of Justice, EPSRC, Daniel Langlois Foundation, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Foundation, British Council and Arts Council England.
One of my core interests is in experimental publishing and hybrid digital/physical outputs. In 1999 I devised the Diffusion eBook project to create a downloadable book format that could use the internet and local printing to leapfrog traditional barriers in publishing small niche works. Collaborating with designer Paul Farrington of Studio Tonne, we invented a unique way of folding and threading sheets of paper to make a booklet. We called it a Diffusion eBook and the first series of 10 books were first published online in September 2000. I continued to commission new writing and artist’s bookworks using the format which were published on the main diffusion website until 2012 (thereafter we shifted to using bookleteer.com).
In 2002 I began researching how to build a web-based publishing platform for anyone with minimal computer skills to create and share their own Diffusion eBooks. Our first proof-of-concept prototype was demonstrated live at the People Inspired Innovation conference hosted by BT Research Labs in September 2003, and our first alpha service went live in 2006. This was superseded in September 2009 when we launched bookleteer.com – a free self-publishing platform. Continuing to evolve, bookleteer enables anyone to create and share eBooks online and as physical objects, and includes our pioneering short run printing service. In late 2012 I established a new monthly serial publishing project called, the Periodical – each month I select one or more books I find inspiring from those made and shared on bookleteer to be printed and posted out to subscribers. An eclectic and eccentric community modelled on 17th Century pamphleteering.
An extension of this approach to publishing was the StoryCube three dimensional storytelling format which I designed between 2002-05 and which has since become part of the bookleteer family of shareables. The StoryCubes have been used in an extraordinary number of ways and by people and organisations across the world for unlocking creativity and for storymaking.
As co-director of Proboscis I lead, both creatively and in terms of project management, many of our commissioned and consultancy projects, such as Perception Peterborough, Sutton Grapevine, Being in Common, Agencies of Engagement (with CARET at the University of Cambridge), Pallion Ideas Exchange (with the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway UoL) and Lifestreams (with Philips Research). I devised and led the conceptual development of our Public Goods research theme (which replaced SoMa) as well as setting up the Public Goods Lab creative technology unit with technologist Stefan Kueppers and multimedia artist Gary Stewart. Having led Proboscis to be recognised in 2005 as an “Independent Research Organisation” by the UK Office of Science and Technology and the UK Research Councils, I was a founder member of the CREATOR research cluster – one of the first such initiatives in the RCUK’s Digital Economy programme in 2008.
In recent years I have also worked in close collaboration with anthropologist Professor James Leach on new ways for villagers living in remote communities in Papua New Guinea to record and share their traditional knowledge of environment and culture. This has in turn led to further collaborations with the ExCiteS (Extreme Citizen Science) research group at UCL, where I have been made an Honorary Research Associate. We are hoping to blend together their approach with ours to develop some innovative co-design methodologies for working with indigenous forest dwelling peoples to create new ways of recording and expressing knowledge and experience.
My interest in “data manifestation” and embodiment has also continued on from the Lifestreams project I led with Stefan Kueppers and scientists at Philips Research. In 2014 I was awarded a Creativeworks residency at Birkbeck University of London to introduce my ideas to computer scientists and explore their value and potential for data analysis and computation. In 2015 I hope to begin a new collaboration with the Human Centred Computing group at the University of Oxford on the “data sublime”.